Tag Archives: Citra

Seasons Change 2

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“Alright men, women, and that technicolor rainbow in-between,” I said, walking along a line of my new guardsmen. Some were made up of the same probationary people I’d brought onboard to help scout things out and keep the peace. “I’m going to quickly review the actions of the probationary members all by myself. I may be quiet a bit while I do all this in my head, but I am here, and I can’t be pantsed. I put a lot of work into my armor’s anti-pantsing technology.” I spread my hands so that people could take take in the glory that is my armor.

Then I fast-forwarded through a long period of time involving body cams, satellite footage, and global positioning. A couple hours later, I noticed the new Security Department rushing back into place or standing up. I feel like I should judge them on that, but I don’t know whether to be a dick and focus on the ones who stayed in place despite an unreasonable request, or favor the ones who weren’t stupid. In the end, I decided not to bother either way because it didn’t matter that much in light of everything else. I should start hiring some sort of middle management and let them worry about it for me. As the head dictator of the nation, I worry about bigger things. Hmm. I might have an idea there.

I folded my hands behind my back, ignoring the penis-shaped balloon hat on my armor. I’ll review my eye footage to see who dropped it on me, but getting mad at a penis hat is the sort of thing that only justifies a penis hat. I wore that penis loud and proud for all to see. So I walked along the line of Security folks, head and penis held high. “So, I see y’all have been busy. Drug deals, home invasions, muggings… The veteran Riccan police officers here have clearly been taking advantage of me being distracted.” I stopped in front of one of the repeat offenders. “Seriously, dude, the old folks home?”

He held that distant stare of someone at attention for a few minutes. When he figured out I wasn’t moving on, he finally offered an explanation for his actions. “I thought they would enjoy it. They don’t get a lot of men jacking it to them anymore.”

His offenses were entirely focused on exposing himself to geriatrics who, it should be noted, haven’t complained. I don’t know if that’s due to the longstanding corruption of a tyrranical governent or genuine appreciation. Long story short, his explanation satisfied me enough to move on. “Good man,” I patted him on the shoulder and gave him my penis hat.

I stepped away to call out one of them. He stepped forward, smug. “Yes, Emperor?”

I waved him even further, away from the others. I kept at it until he stood right in front of me. I clapped him on both shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “I just wanted to tell you… I know about the children.”

Then I tossed him over head and activated his killswitch in my head. Kaboom! “Ok, now I need the guy to come forward who has been picking up people for his personal home dungeon, and I don’t mean the kinky kind.”

That one took off running in the opposite direction. The others looked back, but I held up a hand. “No, no, I got this… You see, folks, I have just one question for all of y’all, as people who are meant to keep everyone safe but who are tempted to abuse the power of your position to fuck things up… explosions?” The death of their fleeing comrade added emphasis to myquestion.

I sighed then. “I know, I know. I’m the last guy who should be talking about law and order, and I’m sure there’s some half-assed justification I could use to explain away both my affinity for chaos and my current desire for a little bit of domestic stability. Perhaps that is, indeed, some fundamental clash faced by all people. Regardless, guys, I have a big trip planned. Don’t make me have to murder all of you? Help me help you by not blowing you up! Oh, that reminds me,” I shot finger guns at some guy with a love of date-raping everything. That petting zoo will never be the same, and I didn’t even get to visit it first.

The line of Security personnel ducked for cover in time to avoid explosion. I continued on, interlacing my fingers together. “Listen, if y’all want me to inflict pain and suffering on the great White Satan, it’s really important that we keep the peace here. If people get rebellious, it gives those imperialist Western dogs an excuse to invade. If you aren’t police, there could be a police action. Plus, the better this place stays, the more reason I have to break shit off the island as opposed to coming back and asserting myself.”

I stopped to turn and look at one of them, who jumped. “I swear, I only took the bribes because I needed them to feed my family and buy cool new clothes!”

“I’m not killing you. Just step forward. Come on.” I let him approach, cautiously, like a tender baby deer. I looked to the others. “Now, as part of this, I want to go over a few things y’all shouldn’t do in normal interactions with the public. See, it’s about proportionate response. If I just go around blowing people up for taking bribes as I do for someone who drugs and fucks cuddly baby goats, it causes a bit of a problem. Sure, people might cut out all the little things… but more than likely, it’ll drive people to do more extreme things to match the sentence they inevitably know they’ll be facing, or to hide what they’ve done. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m with it. I’m groovy. I’m dyn-o-mite!”

I consider some of my address to be part of the punishment. For the newbies, it’s a warning. “So as a basic tip, when just casually interacting with the public, none of this.” I elbowed my current victim in the belly. He doubled over, gasping. “Nor any of this,” I stomped on his foot, causing a crunch. “Or this!” I kneed him in the balls. “And whatever you do, don’t, under any circumstances, resort to this…” I grabbed his ear and twisted it. That was really important as a final touch, because people with broken toes, reverberating balls, and the wind knocked out of them like to fall down.

With that taken care of and a couple more guards disciplined with “mandatory” prostate exams, I left them in the likely-incapable hands of the Directory. When I thought about it, I realized I could dump the responsibility on them to nominate someone to be head of the police force. I don’t know the constitution allows this, but I also don’t care, so I think it all works out.

I also had a talk with them about the possibility of nanite dispensers as cover for what I’d ordered to slip them into the water. And because I’d like some for the palace. But it was just while I was on my way out to go pick up the machine.

Some might ask why I’m even bothering. Well, I realized that one of the things I wanted to do was help this island I’ve taken over. Being me, I have to help in my own way. I’m just no hero, even when I do good things. I’m bad, and that’s good. I’ll never be good, and that’s not bad.

See, a more heroic person might set up helpful dispensers all over the island where the public can access them anytime they want, including people who are just abusing the service or stealing from them. A better person would set up a system of people to refill these dispensers, also becoming targets to people like me. It’s boring, it works, it feeds the criminal element, and it’s what anyone would expect.

Instead, I’m setting up a conspiratorial, secret system to pump them into the water in a controlled release that helps everyone. One place to deliver materials to, one place to guard, one set of workers to pay a little extra to keep their mouths shut. Besides, they deserved the extra money after keeping the entire place running during the recent crisis.

Yep, I seem to have taken everything into account… or so I thought until I checked in on the Bronze City and found Citra assaulting me with what may have been a spitoon. I shook the Dudebot’s head. “Sorry, dear, I was elsewhere. What seems to be the matter?”

“I want to come home. I hate this place. Do you know what this is?!” she held up the metal container she hit my robot duplicate with.

I shrugged my double’s shoulders. “Your very own spitoon. I’m not a chewer, myself, but I’ll support you if you take up the habit. We can have a big parade with the 1812 Overture and a twenty-one spit salute.”

“This is a chamber pot. This is what I have had to use instead of a bathroom!”

She raised it up high, as if to dump it on me. Then she took, as if remembering my leniency has limits, she threw it out a nearby window. From the sound of things, it made quite an impact when it landed. On a horse.

“I hope you’re happy,” I told her, “If you’re done beating a live horse with a jar full of piss, I can answer you. Yeah, sure, fine. Come on home. I’ve got to go on a trip anyway, so we’ll send over some ambassadors. Maybe someone who pisses you off. Oh, and hey, we can even see about getting your old body back.”

She hugged me for some crazy reason. Eh, you know how sensitive the womenfolk are when you force someone to change their identity, take away their indoor plumbing, and surround them with chauvanistic hedonists who like to fuck drunk people. They must have trouble thinking straight due to all the blood flowing to their dicks all the time.

But enough about chicks with sensitive dicks.

My final act of preparation, at least for now, involved me holding my hands over Qiang’s eyes. My daughter had often wanted to travel around with me when I’m in my armor, and I often refused. I do dangerous things, after all. “You know how you keep wanting to go on adventures with Daddy?” I asked her, then had to help her up after she stripped over a girly pink sandal. “Also, this is a good reminder about picking up your shoes out of the middle of the living room.

She picked up the one she’d tripped over. “Dad, this isn’t mine. It’s too big!” She held it up to see.

“I see it, hon. Just hold onto it for now,” I told her. Then, when I had her positioned just right, I moved my hands. “Ok, let’s take a look…”

I think she shattered a window. It was hard to tell, because my ears adjusted to block harmful noises. My eyes worked just fine, though. Qiang loved her new armor. She ran up and hugged it and jumped up and down. It followed a lot of my design aesthetics: padded nanomaterial underlayer with curved armor plate strips to deflect attacks and increase flexibility. No shoulder pads gives her full range of arm movement. The leg armor is a little lacking, primarily focused on the thighs and shins, but with the underlayer doubled. There IS a powered exo-skeleton, which isn’t so exo if it’s built into the armor, but I put some restrictions on it to keep her from doing anything like breaking her own limbs. If she does, she’ll have the benefit of a few built-in nanite distributors that I can activate remotely.

I don’t know what Qiang was saying due to the pitch and volume, but I got the sense she wanted to get in and try it out. I showed her how to undo the environmental seals and pull it on before slipping on her new helmet, with armor strips running along the head and the visor looking more like a scowl. I built it to resemble my old standard armor, complete with 360 cameras. Like the nanites, I can turn off some of it to prevent sensory overload.

This is a weapon, with some restrictions I can turn off at will. And, once she got into it, I held up her left arm and pointed it away from me. “Now, can you feel that thing hiding in there?”

She nodded her cute little helmet. “Want me to use it?”

I smiled. “Do it.”

A thin cable shot out of the underside of her arm. It hit a light in the air and shorted it with crackles and sparks. “That would be the electricity. You can turn that part off if you want. Now listen, this is a weapon. This hurts people. If it’s turned up enough, it can kill someone. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded quietly. I hugged her. “You have the option, but you don’t have to take it. Do you want me to turn off the electricity?”

She nodded again, so I shut it off. “Daddy, I don’t wanna hurt people.”

“You don’t have to, but now you have armor of your own,” I said. She hugged me tight, just us in our armors.

Empyreal City better watch out. I got a Little Psycho on my hands. No… not a psychopomp. She shouldn’t have to bear that label. A Little Dragon.

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Seasons Change 1

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Citra made it out just fine, it turns out. She’s barricaded herself in our rooms at the Bronze Palace, but he’s fine. My Dudebot’s making excuses for sending her back to Ricca, so I’ll see about getting her on a ship back over there when I’m not busy with more important things.

Like measuring my daughter for a new outfit, which is what I was doing when I got interrupted by official duties in the form of a messenger from the Directors.“Sir, the United States wants to talk to you. They are unhappy you set foot off the island in violation of the treaty.”

I rolled my eyes, patted Qiang on the head, and picked her up. “Come, my dear, it’s negotiate with that country that used to be a world leader.”

I spoke with a man with close-shaved hair and a hard face. He looked like they picked him for his ability to look angry and constipated. No wonder my guys said they were unhappy. I stepped up to the screen. “And who do I have the displeasure of wasting time on?”

“You’re in enough hot water as-is, you jumped-up carjacker. What are you doing off your island?”

I looked around, then down. I stomped on the ground a few times. “I don’t know where you think I am right now, but I seem to be on the island.”

He held up spy satellite pictures of me in Ricca fighting the Dimension Rangers and me in the Bronze City meeting the delegation. I glanced at them. “Do you have timestamps?”

“You know damn well we do so we can prove you-”

I reached over to put my and on the Giant Screen I’d been talking through, cutting off this guy with images of my own. They showed footage of the landing and of the fight, alongside footage of a Dudebot gladhanding people on Ricca. “As you can see, either I can be in multiple places at once, or you’re looking at a copycat. Perhaps some despicable doppelganger trying to sully my good name. I’ll have you know I would have you know I haven’t violated any treaty I’ve signed with your country and I am insulted by the implication. Not insulted enough to attack you or anything, but mighty peeved, I tell ya what.”

I was being honest, too. Beetrice forged my name on the original treaty, meaning I never signed it myself. Not that it matters, as I’m quite at fucking the truth sideways in the ass, but I like being able to lie while telling the truth. The best truths are the ones that destroy other people.

After my righteous indignation, the posterboy for frustrated abstinence pointed his finger through the screen at me. “One of you is a goddamn robot, that’s what it is. Probably you.”

I wasn’t in my armor, which made the statement all the more odd. Completely lifelike robots are extremely difficult to maintain. There are sound considerations, movements, smells, and keeping the skin alive. I raised my finger. “Qiang, honey, stab daddy’s finger.”

Qiang looked between the angry man on the screen and me. I smiled at her. She slid her knife out of her dress and held it overhand to gently prick my finger. I turned the prick toward the other prick. “Do I not bleed? Do I not have a loving and obedient daughter to take care of? Have I not recorded this entire conversation to present to the world if you try any of that He-Man macho preemptive bullshit? And before you say it, I know that wouldn’t stop you.” I smiled and chuckled, before looking him in the eye. “I would.”

I shut off the screen, then kissed Qiang’s forehead. “Good job, sweety. That’s what daddy likes to call ‘proof of life.’ See, sometimes people need to be sure someone is alive. Usually, that’s just a matter of holding up that day’s newspaper next to the person, but sometimes you have to resort to blood, or even body parts. Any questions?”

After our impromptu lesson on one of the basics of hostage-taking, I brought Qiang along with me to tour the water treatment plant. She decided she’d rather go play, so I dropped her off with Silver Shark to go find a Cao Cao’s Pizza. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, but with a man in a Japanese samurai outfit who goes around cutting pizzas with his sword. They have lots of games for kids. I tried looking up their history, but the internet had nothing on them except for news archives about children disappearing.

See, this is why I taught my daughter how to kill people and employ a cyborg shark-woman as her babysitter. It keeps me from becoming one of those awful helicopter parents.

Anyway, the water treatment plant. It’s one of the more manageable aspects of my future plan. I was surprised I neglected this place in my first run-through of the island’s facilities. I mean, food’s doing ok. I believe they settled with the Scientologists. I sometimes see Old Man Hoodless roaring by the beach on his new speedboat. Power’s going well now that we’ve got multiple crews trained. I’ve approved the repatriation of the kidnapped nuclear plant crew via quietly dumping them in out of the way places on the Japanese mainland. But I haven’t had a crisis about water so far, and that’s actually pretty awesome.

Lots of systems are like that. The invisible cogs of the world that most don’t think about so long as they work. They can be a real fuckwaffle to fix or get started. That’s why I brought gift baskets for my visit. Sake, cheese, and some sort of medals the Director found for loyalty and hard work. They wouldn’t tell me which of the brothels sell gift cards, so I left those out.

It wasn’t a fancy operation. They had it parked on the south end of the island, right on the coast. Despite my good intentions, I suspect many of them were eager to swim away as I stepped inside to greet them. “Goooood morning my loyal aqua engineers! H2Oh boy aren’t y’all glad to see me? Water y’all doing this fine day?!”

Bad jokes are only a tiny part of the reason I went there to see the bright and shiny faces of the people keeping us hydrated. They didn’t have so many of the bright and shiny faces. Weary, sure. They pulled off confused and curious as well, but the place didn’t have much of a PR department. Then again, when your selling point is “Support us or have no water,” you don’t need a lot of tact to make a deal.

They had a mixed crowd of men and women working there, which is nice to see. They sent forward a man to represent them. “I am Shu, the spokesman for the Water Collective.”

“Collective?” I asked. “I am unfamiliar with y’all and assumed I’d be speaking with a manager or supervisor or something. Please enlighten me.”

Shu and I walked and talked as he took me on a tour of the water purification systems. They showed me the water treatment, ozone, and filters, and I pretended to be fascinated. It was still handy information to have in case I ever need it or need to help fix it, but it also wasn’t as cool as the laser room. Turns out they separate salt from water using a delicate process involving a large industrial laser. Some of the steam from that can be diverted to power an on-site turbine, which kept it self-sufficient while the power was off. They’re also selling the sea salt.

I nodded along hearing how it all came together in what Shu described as a wonderful and complex cycle of water up until they fired it off for me. I couldn’t help but get excited watching stimulated light boil the water into leaving behind salt crystals. “There are doors that close over there so we can get to the salt and access for maintenance… Emperor?”

Shu had to ask after me because I was hugging the observation window and emitting a high-pitched pleasure noise. “It’s ok. I’m just wondering if it has any penis-sized holes.”

“No sir, and we don’t like the laser breaking down,” he said. “But you are the Emperor.”

I unstuck myself from the observation window reluctantly as the laser powered down. I shook myself off to get the tingly feelings off the back of my head. “No, it’s fine, it’s fine. Still, I’m going to need a few things now.”

“We will do our best, sir. What can we get you?” asked Shu.

“I’m gonna need either a crapton of popcorn, or a secret agent. Even better, find me a secret agent and stuff him full of uncooked popcorn.” I was already looking up to find out where they popcorn grows and if we export any.

“I do not believe we can do this. Would you like to continue the tour instead?” he bowed, perhaps to hide his expression in the face of my reactions while also showing respect.

I nodded along with residual enthusiasm from the water-slaughtering death machine they’d demonstrated. “Sure, sure, I got ya. Listen, let’s just cut to the thing I showed up here for in the first place. What I need to know is if you have something already built to pump chemicals into the water supply.”

Shu raised his face back up, his smile failing to reach the corner of his eyes. “Of course. This way, my Emperor.”

It’s not really a surprise they built the place to do that, too. “Here it is, Emperor.” Shu presented me to a set of tanks hooked into the outgoing water supply. “These are the flouride tanks. We haven’t had flouride in them for years, though.”

“Flouride? I’m surprised Claw cared so much.”

She scratched the back of his head. “The rumors say a scientist told him he could use flouride in the drinking water to make people into mindless followers, when he was really a foreign operative meant to trick the Claw. The project did nothing but improve people’s teeth.”

“Interesting,” I said, climbing up to examine some of the tanks. All empty, but I think they’ll work. “Who did he work for? CIA? KGB? MI-6?”

“The American Dental Association,” Shu responded, getting a laugh from me.

“A dentist, eh? They stick him in a chair and take a drill to him for interrogation? Now that’s some poetic justice.” I rubbed my hands together, nearly salivating at the idea.

“No,” Shu answered, “The man had a cyanide tooth. They checked him for such, but the tooth was perfectly installed and eluded detection.”

“Well,” I said, slamming a hand down on the side of the tank. “These things are perfect, and tooth enthusiasts like that dastardly dentist may yet get their wish. I’ve got an idea. We’re going to inundate the local waters, you see. Special nanomachines that don’t quite operate the way the medical ones do.”

“Sir?” he asked.

I clapped my hands together. “Imagine if all you anyone needed to do to get over illness was enjoy water from the tap? Get over a cut off limb by soaking in a bath, even. It’s one of the first ideas I have in mind for improving things.”

The guy seemed a bit jumpy. He didn’t need to know about my planned instructions to mess around a bit with people bodies. See what I can do to impress some of those same abilities into people, much in the way I’ve upgraded my own flesh. I resolved to think more on whether it should all be controlled manually or subject to a program running experiments.

I had plenty of time to think about it after I left the treatment facility to head back to the palace and begin work on a child-sized suit of power armor. Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined when Silver Shark and Qiang burst in looking like they’d been in something of a tussle.

“Problem, dears?” I asked, smiling at them.

“We are never going back there again!” Silver said. I took it to be a normal allergic reaction to kid saturation until Qiang added to the conversation.

“They had robot animal samurai on a stage to play music, and then they let them walk around, and, and, and then one of them tried to take me in the back for a prize. He turned out to be a person in a suit with a knife, so I stabbed him, like this!” She demonstrated a hard, swift stab at the air in what would be crotch-level for a grown adult.

“Good girl!” I said, clapping for her.

“In your name, I beat the crap out of him and dropped him off at the base. If I didn’t have Qiang with me, I’d have taken my time,” Silver said. “You really need a police force to help with all this. You stay busy.”

“I have a lot I’m doing,” I told them. “Have to get the island ready for a brief absence, and that sounds like another area I need to work on.” And it’s true. I’m not just handling busy work. There’s much to prepare before I take my kid along with me to visit the United States. Speaking of, I may have to teach her to HALO jump.

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Gecko Says Mu 11

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Everything seems to be coming up Gecko lately. In all the excitement of smacking down the Rangers and viciously murdering a plant, I noticed a loose thread I’ve worked on snipping off. And I had every intention of snipping Vercingetorix. I’m good with knives and other sharp objects.

Truth is, I expected him to be at the tree instead of the Dimension Rangers. Or I expected him to make a move at some time during my Dudebot’s arrival and coronation. A drunken orgy is a pretty good time to get some killing done. Some of them will even help you if they think someone’s into auto-erotic asphyxiation. Awful hard to scream for help around a ballgag.

But enough about drunken, murderous sex and debauchery; let’s return to talking about my life.

As I said, I expected to be ambushed sooner. It’s a good thing I was wrong, because fighting the barbarian warrior and the Dimension Rangers at once could have gone badly for me. For whatever reason, he held off. It’s not a matter of presence, either. The miniscule Riccan Navy found his boat, but with no signs of life. I suspect he rendezvoused with the Rangers again. They’re probably all buddy-buddy for some reason.

I didn’t stay paranoid over him, though. I’d had ideas stemming from a certain clarity related to my desires. They were a different sort of ambition. I’ve been looking over the tattered infrastructure of this island and getting ideas on how to improve it. A way to make this place a real gangster’s paradise in which someone could live all their life, even if the Directors think that my mind is gone.

I mean, I’ve got these miracle machines. They keep me alive, and others, but my antics have likely blinded most of the world to their true potential. That’s not entirely a bad thing. I’m not going to get all paternalistic and say I’ve kept anything from people for their own good. I’ve made it clear that I keep stuff from these people for my own good. Have fewer of these savage homo sapiens running around, able to heal in a fight or regenerate from the brink of death and losses of limb. I’d say something about imagining the possibilities, but I’m it. Who knows how many times I’d have died by now?

So I’ve started drawing up a plan. I got ideas about this place now. Ideas that’ll change the world. Move it into the future. And that means letting go of the past. That’s not a metaphor. The Bronze City is Bronze Age. I’m really not seeing the hype here. I think it’s because I’m sober. Well, technically, I’m represented by a robot, and those don’t get drunk off alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are nasty drunks. You don’t have to worry about fight bite, but they pull hair. You have to come at them waxed or oiled. Then digits go everywhere and things get kinda weird. I preferred being oiled.

You know, it’s more like Bronze City than I realized at first.

My Dudebot’s been touring the place, seeing the city from the ground with my own robot copy’s eyes via wireless connection. The lovely fighting pit. The bazaar and its wonderful cultural items, like big-donged fertility statues. The great library and its wonderful poetry, with such wonderful cultural works. Learned a new beer recipe.

The only thing of any value was the damn money. Electrum. But gold, silver, and copper are only so valuable. I think I really got screwed on this marriage. Speaking of Citra, she really didn’t take the fighting pit very well. They wanted to show us a fight, so they brought out a trio of prisoners, all oiled up and shaved. I asked the guide about it. His title translates to something like a consul, and he’s milking that job for all the beard oil he can get. Slick and curled like a mofo. I bring him up because I turned to ask him why they bothered with the oiling up. It was a weird coincidence, given my other thoughts on oil. It’s like when you hear a word for the first time and start noticing it everywhere.

“Your majesty,” he began. “The oil is very important. It beautifies the prisoners for our viewing. Just look at that man’s beautiful arms. Those are the arms of a smith who forged counterfeit coins. And that woman there needs all the oil she can get. Just look at those tiny breasts. She needed serious help.”

I looked down on high. The King’s platform was the highest along the oval rim of the pit. Everyone else had these wood benches around the lip that gave a limited view of anything too close. They were also at least thirty feet above the worn grass of the pit’s floor where the armed prisoners stood. “What did she do? Prostitution?”

He gasped. “We would never think of sentencing someone to the pit for prostitution. Whoring is not against the law. What kind of uncivilized brutes do you take us for?”

I pointed to the woman. “So what did she do?”

“She was discovered to be the infamous Fish Gutter. She tempted young boys away from virtuous love, but that’s not all. She would gut and clean the boys like fish. She is insane.”

I need to install penises on my Dudebots for times when I get so aroused I need more than one body to express it. I wish I could see her work, but I’ll settle for seeing her boobs. Petite, but rather nice and shapely, with such tiny, pink areolas. They’d shaved her head clean. For whatever reason, they didn’t bother with the armpits, pubes, and ass when it came time to make the prisoners look good for fighting. Such uncivilized brutes.

Still, the day looked pretty good with bloodsport on the menu. The crowd hushed around us all as they wheeled out a cage. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the big, bad beasty was a cuddly, if somewhat large, koala. The Consul spoke up. “Oh my, they sent no word this was the entertainment of the day.”

Just to be clear, koalas are Australian, which makes them both intrinsically cuter and incredibly deadly. The same can be said of their women and beer. If y’all are waiting for the word “respectively,” there than you’ve never seen a bottle of Aussie lager or risked the deadly embrace of a Tasmanian She-Devil.

Mmm. I should see what Tasmanian She-Devil’s up to these days. Things ended badly, but I grew those pieces back. I think she still has my copy of Iron Maiden’s The Best of the Beast.

Enough with the distractions. I must get back to the bread and circuses. A bunch of these tunic-loving guys rolled out the cage, then moved around behind it. With a tug, they used a rope to pull over a lever on the front that dropped the cage’s door open. They sprinted out of there as fast as they could run, while the koala just sat there. The crowd actually gasped when it began to crawl toward the prisoners. All three looked shaken and slippery.

The koala finally reached the edge of the cage, looked up, then opened its mouth to expose finger-thick fangs. It pounced from twenty feet away and began tearing out the throat of the forger smith. The screams were amazing. So was the gore. It had terrible table manners. I wondered how I could domesticate one. Not all animals will chew down through the throat into the chest cavity. “What is that thing? That’s no normal koala.”

Citra covered her face with her hands, getting a few looks. Elda, who she resembles, was better known as rebellious and trying real hard to be independent. The Consul glanced at her before focusing on me to answer. “That is a gravity bear. The beast from above. They can be found in the wilds of our lands, hidden in trees to drop on the unwary and unfortuante.”

It gutted the Fish Gutter. “A koala bear that drops down from trees and murders people?” I asked. “Sounds delightful. Does this one have a name?”

“Like a pet?” asked the Consul, eyes wide. A scream from the pit drew both of our attention back to it. The last prisoner tried to crawl away, one of his legs held in the mouth of the koala. He was still free to escape, though, as that leg was no longer attached to his body.

“A pet wouldn’t be a bad idea if it could be- fuck!” The platform under us groaned and tipped forward, spilling the consul, Citra, a couple of guards, and some sycophantic nobodies into the arena. I went to catch myself on a rail, but the wood gave way under the weight of my armor and I crashed down to.

The monstrous marsupial mauled a man. Could tell that from the screams, even with Citra yelling her head off. I looked up to see the thing chowing down on the consul. The beard will be missed.

Unlike the doppelganger of Vercingetorix, which was an upgraded humanoid drone, this one was built to this purpose. It wasn’t a problem to get it to its feet and grab the creature in mid-jump before it could spoil Citra’s face. It claws and bit at my armor, but couldn’t penetrate. Even if it did, there was no blood to be spilled. Instead, punched straight through its chest and tore out its heart, then dropped it on its ass. From that position, I punted its head off into the crowd, eliciting gasps and cheers.

Though they enjoyed the spectacle, and Citra was glad to be alive, I wasn’t celebrating just yet. I turned to see what had happened to our platform and found Vercingetorix looking out over the wall by the shattered wood supports that had held up the King’s box. He ululated and more people began crying in panic as doors around the edges of the fighting pit opened and animals flooded out. I grabbed Citra. “Time to go, dear.” I tossed her up into the wealthy part of the crowed, where all the fat people sat and were busy trying to get up and flee lions, wolves, and other things that had been meant to die for their entertainment.

It cost me a hit across my back by Vercingetorix, who had hurdled the wall and advanced with a spear in one hand, a woodchopping axe in the other. He’d tried to shishkebab me, but it didn’t penetrate. I turned and tore the spear’s point off, but he just raised the axe meant for splitting logs and tried to split my noggin. One swing and a miss. Two swings and a miss. I caught the third one on my gauntlet. Yeah, embedding it didn’t do shit except let me grab it and pull it straight out of his hands. I headbutted him to stumble him, but it did jack squat.

He headbutted me right back, which also did nothing. So I gave him one back next, and then he returned it. Instead of a third, I chopped his wood with the axe. Yep, I swung it low to high into his loincloth. He dropped to his knees. When I brought it down overhead, he grabbed my arm and, for a short time, strained enough to hold me at bay. He gritted his teeth and spoke to me then, his voice showing his exertion. “You are a fake. I will not be the last man you have to slay to secure your rule. You can not step over corpses forever.”

His eyes betrayed him, but too late. He glanced to the side. A bolt as thick as my unarmored arm shot into my side, cutting in and pushing me down. I dropped the axe from the blow. What I’d missed in all the distraction was his sidekick had wheeling in a smaller ballista, avoiding lions and all sorts of nasty predators that had since found their way to the crowd. They hadn’t bothered me for the same reason the giant bolt didn’t bother, I believe.

Vercingetorix grabbed the axe and raised it overhead for a killing strike. I raised the Dudebot’s right arm and fired the rocket on that arm. The forearm detached from the rest of the arm and latched onto Vercingetorix’s throat. He dropped the axe to struggle with the choking hand at his windpipe. I caught it with the Dudebot’s left and buried in the barbarian’s stomach. I chopped and chopped, but at a human body and spine instead of a tree. When he fell, the hand dropped away and the axe removed from him his now-purple head.

“I am the future,” I said, dropping the axe and reattaching the right arm. I didn’t have a crowd, as everyone else had fled. Even those guards. Oh wait, there they were, or at least their bodies. They got mauled by something. “And I am the death of the status quo. The apocalypse of the old ways has begun.”

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Gecko Says Mu 10

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Ah, the complications of being ruler. I have to do so much, it’s like I’m required to be in multiple places at once. Luckily, I have the Dudebots. My magic metal me’s. It’s not that hard if you’re used to that sort of thing. Like texting while evading police in a high-speed chase while masturbating. I was going to say “jacking off,” but there was this one time it was Jill instead of Jack. Tricky, that. Pushing the wrong button means stomping on a pedal at the wrong time.

So I got more than one “me” out there, all controlled by the real me. One Dudebot sped into the Bronze Harbor of the Bronze City to meet the Bronze Men, all on a speedboat. It had to pass underneath the Bronze Colossus too, a giant statue of a guy in armor, armored skirt included. I, by which I mean the robot in this instance, stood upon the deck beside Citra and pointed up at it as we passed beneath. “It’s like a penis, except smaller.”

Yep, handling multiple Dudebots isn’t so much a problem unless my mind wandered. My mind wandered. I kept thinking about having to lock Qiang in a bunker again in case something goes wrong with this outing. I wanted to be back with her. She shouldn’t be locked away, guarded by men with guns, unable to see her father. I should be there with her, playing or taking care of her or just teaching her something useful. Like basic field first aid.

They had a delegation meet us at the docks, with a whole parade, and several servants carrying wine. I didn’t think they were that eager that I’d defiled their princess and claimed their throne as an outsider, but that wasn’t enough to keep them from having a party with lots of alcohol. I could see myself finding common ground with these people. This place would make a hell of a market for all kinds of goods. Personal razors, toothbrushes, and deodorant. Especially deodorant. When I saw Citra’s new nose crinkle, I leaned over to fix a pine tree necklace around her neck. Even if I wasn’t king, I could own this place with nothing but a boatful of pine car fresheners and a dream.

“Greetings, Bronze City of Mu,” I began, having my armor put out a deeper and more commanding tone. “I am Emperor Gecko of Ricca, king of the Bronze City by marriage of the Princess Elda.” Here I indicated Citra, who stayed quiet. One minor flaw in my plan is that Citra, while way easier to control, doesn’t know how to speak the language. I hooked her up with an earbud that can translate, but she’s stuck to smiling and looking pretty for the moment.Ya know, there might be some problems with this plan, but I DID say I wouldn’t go through with marrying Elda.

I continued on with my speech, by the way. Just in case anyone was forgetting that. “You will be no lesser subjects to me than those I already serve the interests of.” So what if they smell funny and act backwards? They’re only human, which is just another way of saying they smell funny and act backward anyway. “And I shall do all I can to see a great merger of our nations and our ascendancy to greatness! Glory to Ricca, and to the Bronze City!”

I don’t know if I’m just that good at speaking, or if they’d already broken into the wine, but I was a big hit. They got the party rolling on down the road, with myself and Citra on a chariot, waving at people. The palace awaited.

Meanwhile, I dropped out of a cargo copter within the near-lifeless crater in the center of the continent of Mu. My HUD could read an unusual life profile from the tree, though. It was no normal plant. Oddly, nothing picked up by my armor pointed to it being a magical anomaly. Those tend to be rather distinctive due to their incompatibility with my physiology and most of your more advanced smart technology.

The chopper lowered a couple crates of supplies I cut free, in case things need to get violent. Only after I had those firmly on the ground did I bother approaching. As the old proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound on your own face.”

It was when I turned to finally make my approach that the problems started. Five colored streaks shot from the sky and slowed to land between tree and me. The color faded and there before me stood five young men and women with attitude. And before them stood a rubber chicken struggling to get to its little feet and find a road. The one in the red shirt had enough sense to kick it away, but it detonated close enough to knock them all flat.

I jumped over and very nearly planted my knee in the chest of the red ranger on landing, but the one in the slim, void black armor ran up as if it’d just been hiding there and held its molecular blade out for me to impale myself on. I threw my weight back hard to alter my fall and saved myself from yet another sword to the lung. It knocked the air out of me, but I forced myself to get to my knee. The only ranger who had me beat in that regard was still this Black one, who ran and swiped to take my head off.

I rolled toward him and kicked up, hitting wrist with heel and snapping that blow well away. I dropped back and kipped up to my feet. I caught the ranger’s wrist and twisted to break it, then slapped him upside the helmet with my other hand, and then again with a backhand. “Ranger? I don’t even know ‘er! No one else will either, before too long.” I went to chop his throat, but his armor shifted and pushed me away as it was replaced with the bulkier armored version.

“You stepped out of your safe haven and into a grave, Psychopomp,” the black ranger said.

“Don’t get too eager. I’ll have to spank you and send you crying to your daddy.” I quipped back.

“You killed my father!” he yelled and rushed forward.

I jumped back, even as holograms projected off of me, seemingly sending me flying everywhere. With the weaker hologram system on this armor, I couldn’t pull off this many flawless projections, so I didn’t even try. They were all ghostly and see-through, but they were everywhere, obscuring me. The ranger stopped, looking around at me and swiping experimentally.

Something bonked off his helmet. He caught it before it could drop down. It was a rubber chicken head. That’s when he looked down and when the chicken grenade blew up.

He flew into the air, sparks shooting out. I jumped up after him, grabbing his leg with one hand so the artificial muscles in my armor’s legs could propel us both further into the air. The song Higher And Higher blasted from my armor.

The gauntlet not gripping the hero began to glow as an energy sheathe glowed into existence around it. At the apex of our climb, I turned and wrapped my legs around the Black ranger’s waist. He tried to stick me with his sword, but my free hand kept the blade under control with the aid of the rockets built into the elbow. Indeed, I used the other arm’s rocket to help power us down even faster from on high. I cut it seconds before impact to pull my hand back, unhitch my legs, and punch on impact.

Now, there’s technically no thing as “pure energy” as it’s all about how much work something can do. When applied to a field around someone’s forearm and fist and unleashed through a punch, thiscan include burns and a devastating increase in the force exerted. Add in gravity, rocketry, and an exoskeleton.

I was momentarily blinded by sparks upon impact with the ground and the Black ranger’s body. The ranger’s armor burst away from all the damage and the person behind it all lay there staring up at me with a chest that had been cratered with a hole straight through at the nadir.

He’d tried to kill me to avenge his father. Now being a father, I kinda hope Qiang would do that for me if someone killed me. Except it didn’t work out quite so well for this guy, I suppose. And she’ll never be my equal. I’d never let her go through the things that made me. A parent should want a better life for their child, after all. I realized that if the black ranger’s dad had loved his son, there’s no way he would have wanted them to follow a path that would lead to this.

I began to have those things, kinda like anger, hatred, loathing, hostility, rancor, animosity, enmity, disgust, irritation, scorn, spite, repugnance, revulsion, and sexual arousal. Like feelings, I guess, but confused. Lucky I didn’t have to think too hard on it because of all the pains hooting through my body from my arm.

I stood up slowly, having taken the fall a bit roughly in spite of the punch helping to counteract that as well. In fact, my right arm wasn’t responding. I reached over to jam it back into socket, which also hurt like getting kicked in the dick by someone wearing hornets for high heels. It would have given me better motion except for the breaks. Never know when first aid’s going to be handy. However, I had better aid. I reached down with ol’ lefty, the reliable stranger, to search out a container of nanites for injection. I pulled one loose, but a plasma bolt burst it in my hand. I turned to seek out the origin and found the remaining five rangers morphed, all holding the pistols of this iteration. They always have the pistols, or some equivalent.

“Dead or alive, you’re-” the Red one started, but Green opened fire prematurely. Given it was a woman, I’m inclined to believe she doesn’t usually go off prematurely. I raised my left arm, the system absorbing the energy to power a shield while recharging my suit’s batteries. The other rangers joined in then. The first few fizzled away harmlessly; the next bounced off. I opened my hand and caught one, though it was really held by a glowing barrier before it could touch the palm of my gauntlet. That one I threw at the green one, who flew backwards in a shower of sparks.

Red and Blue ran to check on her. The last two, White and Yellow, charged for me. Two rangers, and I was down an arm. Too bad for them that left me a free head, arm, and both legs. They never stood a chance. The White one ran around to get behind me, an axe appearing in her hands. Yellow drew a pair of daggers and swung them at me. I aimed my left arm back and hit the rocket. It dragged me back and bumped into white, who fell down in mid swing, the energy adding much more to the strike than I put into it. Then I threw a projection of me accellerating in a rocket punch right at Yellow. Yellow swung for it and was left open when I did so for real, sending him flying.

That gave me a sorely needed moment to grab an injector of nanites. It wasn’t my favorite way to heal up, but I opened up the crotch panel on my armor and jabbed away. I stood there and looked at the rangers. They’d taken the time to regroup and stand all in a line opposite me. I raised my right hand and tested it, then swung my arm around. “Now that I don’t have one hand tied behind my back, we can really start playing.”

I noticed they had the body of the Black ranger pulled up behind them. I nodded toward him. “Were you close?”

“What do you care, psychopath?!” yelled the Green ranger.

I raised a finger as I made my point. The Rangers not being so used to this world’s culture, they may not have realized the index finger is the one I was supposed to have used. “Psychopomp. But he meant something to you, right?”

She pulled her pistol and fired again, which I snatched out of the air. “I’m assuming that’s a yes. So I’m going to do something for you. He died because it was his life or mine. If we continue, maybe, maybe you inch out a win. But you don’t all survive it. I killed him easily, and just beat the crap out of two of you with just one hand. Just walk away. Leave me here and I’ll spare your lives. Just walk away and I’ll give you a safe passage out of these wastelands. Just walk away and there will be an end to your horror today.”

“What if we want to risk it?” asked Blue.

It was a risk, showing trust. It’s not entirely bad. Just look what happened when Master Academy took a chance on me! Nevermind, look away from when Master Academy took a chance on me. Especially with that robot I sent them in the mail.

The crate that had been dropped for me burst out. A swarm of copter drones spread out around a trio of tanks. Red and I looked right at each other for several long seconds before he nodded. He reached down and grabbed the body of the Black ranger. The all zipped away in their colored lights.

I took a breath then, and turned to this Tree of Wonders. I stepped carefully overs its roots that I would have sworn moved out of the corner of my eye, even though my helmet gave me such a wide view of the area around me.

Things kept coming to mind. Venus. Taking over the world again. Wiping the Rangers from existence. Making the world know I am right. Anything I wanted, I had here, in the palm of my hands. I didn’t quite realize when I’d reached out and touched it. Supreme power. Immortality. I wondered briefly if I could magic one of Venus’s eggs fertilized. Or kill her. Or force her to love me. Ugh, I should magic myself into getting over her.

I could finally die. I could make my past never happen, too, though what would that do to Qiang? Or the world, I suppose, given how many times I’ve ended up saving it. Mainly Qiang. And did I even care for real, or just because I knew I should?

I pulled away. What I could do is one thing, but what did I want? I wanted to live, and I had what I needed for that. The Rangers? I could handle them. Hell, I’ve gotten so strong I can scare them away instead of having to kill them. Take over the world? Done it once. Can always do it again.

I wanted to destroy this tree and go teach my daughter how to pop her arm back into her shoulder. I took a step back and tripped over roots that had risen. They moved quickly to wrap up my arms, but I pulled free with my armor. Why would I want to go free? I could have everything I wanted if only I stayed. I could have it all, but I didn’t want it all. And I didn’t want some stupid plant putting thoughts into my head.

I tore my way free, having to crawl over reaching tendrils of root. They tried to pile on anyway, weaker, but incredibly numerous. But I had numbers, too. The drones swooped in and concentrated their fire all around me, tearing through roots and giving me a chance to pull free. “I didn’t just kill a man to die to a plant.” I brushed myself off, then pointed back with my thumb. “Let’s burn this bush.”

I didn’t leave until that tree and its roots were ashes. Then I went to go see my damn daughter while ignoring Citra’s pleas to return to Ricca after my Bronze City coronation turned into a drunken orgy.

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Gecko Says Mu 9

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I insisted I didn’t want a big ceremony. I was still insisting it as they uncovered a gilded statue of me. I still insisted, but, ya know, gilded statue. Quietly, I insisted. But still I insisted. Gold’s a bit tacky in those amounts… in the powerful curves of my armor… bringing to life the fierce expression on my helmet. Sometimes, you don’t realize how pretty something is until you see a giant version made of valuable metal.

The gilty party in question was a statue of my armor, since that’s how I appear to most people. I’m usually seen out and about in my armor, though the Directors insisted I make an exception. The people here are so confident in their newly-gained self rule that they completely blew off any ideas I had of making this a smaller affair. “It’s not every day that the Emperor marries,” said one guy with a really tall top hat. “You’ll look amazing in your regalia.” He smartly turned, clicking his heels together, and walked off.

“Regalia?” I asked, thinking to pictures of kings in pantaloons and heavy spotted coats, heavy crowns on their heads and holding orbs. “It better not be something where I end up holding some balls!” I hear they’re heavy, just like those big crowns, and I’m already picking up one ball and chain.

Ugh. I’m relying heavily on cliche here, but I have to watch how much things go that way. Cliche is predictable. Predictability is an easy way to die. So it was that I watched my back thoroughly when I stood at the altar in fancy robes, a sash forming an X across my chest. It was part of the tradition on Ricca.

I don’t know if they cared about Western wedding traditions, but I hit up the town for a night of strippers and blow anyway. I was awoken the next morning by the owner of the petting zoo, who found me in a cage with a pair of dead hookers and a pregnant goat. “It’s not what it looks like!” I said to the man, who stared at me like someone whose world had come crashing down. I tried to explain and pointed to the hookers, “They were already dead when I found them last night!” The goat licked my face then, so I pushed its head away and pointed to its very heavy belly, “And, uh, I’m pretty sure this thing was already knocked up.”

Somewhere there’s a pissed-off CIA section chief berating his spies, saying, “Do you know who this guy is? We need more than zombie prostitutes and interspecies erotica to hold over his head! That’s every goddamn Wednesday for him!”

At least the goat had been shaved lately. Elda’s people were a little behind the time in grooming standards for women.

As far as guests went, I invited all the people I was told were important. More than that, I had other guests I expected. A squad of Deep One militia had spotted a trireme while on patrol. They offered to go and blow it up with more mines, but I declined. I wouldn’t mind them rigging something to blow up the ship once the survivors of that little voyage set sail again, but the Deep Ones haven’t shown me they can be trusted to follow those kinds of orders yet.

They normally prefer weddings in real buildings, but they had to balance the importance of the occasion with the lack of a real palace. The Directors were more than happy to let us borrow their marquee. Fun fact: a really big tent is called a marquee.

Elda stood there with a white dress on, Chinese style with a high collar, a flower laurel in her hair. She’d actually bathed and allowed herself to be made up, and it improved on her looks.

They’d attempted to keep her as close to Riccan traditions as possible, but she’d resisted and clearly won the right to carry a knife with her. She’d made her point to the Directors about needing to sacrifice to her gods during the ceremony. And something about the two of us bathing each other. They worked in some of her traditions, and arranged for animal sacrifice beforehand. It gave the chefs time to sneak the corpse of the lamb to the kitchen. I checked the knife for blood regardless.

To get us to standing in front of the altar, I had to skip a LOT of drudgery. And, like everyone in the middle of getting married, I knew y’all were eager to skip to all the action. I most certainly was.

So I stood there, at the altar, looking uncomfortable, with some strange woman I don’t know holding my hands and looking into my eyes, joining her life to mine, or whatever things people associate with weddings. If I had to put a name to the feelings running through me at the moment, I would have said paranoia, frustration, and a desire to kill someone. But those are the standard ones I have all the time. Confusion added to it as I tried to consider the whole marriage thing and what the fuck it’s even for. I’m going to go with property rights as my final answer on that one.

Case in point, someone tried to give me an axe. Instead of being laid out on one of the tables full of gifts, it came in the hand of a sweaty muscled guy crashing through the top of the tent. It would have made quite the surprise if he wasn’t screaming. I instinctively pulled Elda close, but people probably mistook that for trying to shield her rather than myself. Vercingetorix turned the blade away from hitting her, which meant it missed me by happy coincidence. Perhaps as a consequence of him and his gang coming in from above, the tent started to collapse inward.

I turned to get Elda and I out, but a clang and a pain in my side preceded me getting lifted and thrown. When I landed, I have to say I was impressed. Standing up amidst falling fabric cutting off the view, I let the illusion of the ridiculous wedding costume disappear, revealing my armor. My unpenetrated armor, though it still hurt a little to get hit like that. That left Elda with Vercingetorix. She pulled her knife and took a slice at him.

Elda was dedicated to being an independent warrior princess. Too bad she sucks at fighting. Vercingetorix dodged her easily. He grabbed her hand and spun her around so that he was holding her cross her throat with just one hand. “You must come with me away from this place!”

“With you, the man who murdered my father?!” She kicked him in the balls before stomping down on his foot. He didn’t let her go, but then she bit down on his forearm and didn’t let up even after the blood spurted. Hey, I taught her that. Had to put a few guys on medical leave before she got it right.

The tent finished collapsing on us all and I had to tear my way through it. I saw a pair of lumps where Elda and Vercingetorix had been fighting and, past them, several members of the wedding party finding their way free. I wondered if people were going to find those complementary knives under all their chairs. Elda cut her way out. Vercingetorix behind her grabbed at the fabric, and I saw opportunity.

I ran forward as if to help Elda, and wrap her in my arms. My momentum, sadly, carried us a bit too close to the lump that was Vercingetorix. She tried to get out of my grip. “What- ah!” The tent tore, and skin with it. Elda’s legs collapsed under her but I still held her up as Vercingetorix stepped out for all to see.

“I can still save her!” I yelled, picking up Elda and starting to carry her away to the residence.

Vercingetorix seemed shocked for a moment, then perhaps more so at the arrival of a half dozen tank drones, twenty deep ones, a helicopter, and a cohort of pissed-off wedding guests with knives. It didn’t help when Silver Shark threw a bear at him and VelocityRaptor chucked another pair of accomplices at him. Almost as an afterthought, the wedding cake rolled over from the side and a bikini-clad soldier burst from the top with a battle cry, a pair of SMGs in his hands. Things went silent for a moment. It was a cry by the Bronze Man sailor that finally shook the barbarian into taking his friends and fleeing.

I was supposed to be looking after my bride, who I’d carried over the threshhold and then dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes so I could watch. Intentional or not, the bear absorbed a lot of bullets and lasers before skidding to a dead halt. There was a bald woman with a snake wrapped around her neck. Her head popped like a melon. That left Vercingetorix and a younger guy whose clumsiness helped him dodge eveything my people sent at him. They were exposed, though, and it would be just a matter of seconds.

Until the old man in faded gray robes stepped out one of the depressions leading to the old palace basements and threw a bottle behind the barbarian and his remaining sidekick. It created this glowing blue wall that stopped everything. The pair of would-be heroes ran to meet him, but the old man collapsed on his way.

“Come on, people, go around the wall. Around, over, underneath, it’s just a piece of wall there!” I said to myself cut into the comms frequencies to yell at them. “Get around the wall and finish them off!”

‘I don’t know, sir, it looks like it’s starting to give under the assault!” said the voice of someone who wanted to be executed for incompetence.

“Go around the wall. Come on, there’s a fucking helicopter here, raise up a little higher!” I yelled. Behind me, Citra approached. She looked down on Elda, pity marking her borrowed features. They were no longer Venus’s features. Instead, she had the same strawberry blonde and tanned skin as Elda. I’d had the nanites give Citra better teeth and an unbroken nose, though.

“Can’t you spare her?” asked Citra, kneeling beside the would-be bride.

“If you’re already trying to change me, then you’re in for a rude awakening. More so than the other night,” I turned to her, trying to track the flight of the barbarian from orbit.

The helicopter was pursuing the sidekick and Vercingetorix, who had left the old guy behind. Vercingetorix threw his axe and suddenly the chopper veered off, the pilot reporting an axe lodged in the window and an urgent need for new pants.

“I agreed to that hole before,” Citra said, returning me to the conversation of rude awakenings. “I do not think I can change you, but I ask you, please. I have given up my identity for you. I give myself to you completely. As a wedding gift this once, I ask you show mercy to the one whose place I’ve taken.” She stepped up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She nuzzled her cheek against my cape.

Eh, it won’t kill me be nice this once for someone else’s sake. I stepped out of her embrace and turned to go fetch the general medicalnanites for Elda, who had passed out from blood loss. The organs where that axe hit weren’t looking pretty either, but she was still, faintly, alive. I kept a large stock of the weaker Riccan variant around just in case I had such wounds. Then I carried her to Citra’s room, which she’d no longer be needing, where Citra had bathed in nanites to change her features. They would see to keeping her alive and keeping her incapacitated for long enough.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the damaged chopper had tried to land back at the miliary base, below which Qiang played safe in a bunker. The daredevil pilot figured a little axe throwing wouldn’t put him off his game. Throwing a pine air freshener around his neck to distract from the smell the last pilot left, he hopped in and gunned it for the barbarian’s ship.

They had reached it and were getting it ready for their escape as best as they could with only the two people. Of course the chopper could reach them and blow them out of the water. At least until the pilot’s targetting equipment scrambled. “Fire on that ship and there won’t be enough robots in the world that could put you back together,” said a voice over the radio.

I switched over to Intercept’s frequency. “Emperor, can you hear us yet? Please answer! The Ranger ship is at the edge of international waters.”

“Yes, with guns trained on what’s left of your palace, Gecko. Call off your pursuit.”

“You know you’re fucking with some treaties now. This is no business of yours.”

“We have broad authority over extradimensional threats, including those associated with the land that reappeared so close to your island. We also have a cannon we can fire first and apologize for using after you’re destroyed. Be glad we’re giving you a choice at all.”

Damn Rangers!

I’ll have Vercingetorix yet, and those tights-wearing sons of bitches. In the meantime, I have to go make an appearance with a perfectly-fine Elda and finish my wedding, then send a delegation with the Bronze City sailor to inform them all of their new king and queen. Get them ready for our visit to the island. That part of the plan has worked just fine.

Now to secure the Tree of Wonders before it is used against me.

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Gecko Says Mu 8

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I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.

Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.

Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.

Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.

This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.

So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.

I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.

That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.

So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.

“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”

Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.

I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”

Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”

The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.

“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”

She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.

“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”

She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”

I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.

I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.

When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”

“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.

“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”

Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.

“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”

She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”

I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”

“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.

I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”

Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”

Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.

Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”

“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.

I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.

I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”

She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.

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Gecko Says Mu 7

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I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.

I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.

So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.

They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”

“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.

“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”

“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”

I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”

I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!

Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.

It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.

When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”

“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.

“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”

“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”

“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.

“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”

We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.

While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.

When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.

“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”

That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”

“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”

“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.

“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”

“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”

“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?

After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”

“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”

“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”

“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.

I sat back down. “The United States elected-”

She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.

I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”

“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.

“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”

She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”

“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”

“Damn straight,” Silver said.

We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.

Lifestyles of the rich and evil.

Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.

“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”

Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”

A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”

I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”

That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.

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Gecko Says Mu 5

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Dear readers, you’ll be happy to know that VelocityRaptor did in fact result from an attempt to copy Veloci-Raptor. I talked to him about it when I visited him in the hospital, recovering from his wounds. They’d had to proceed a little more slowly with his recovery because of the cybernetics and exoskeleton. I brought him dinner one night while checking on him and asked after it. “Veloci-Raptor attacked a heroin ring my brother was caught up in. Vien told me he tried to escape when a feathered blur in a cape threw him into a wall. The police got him. Three days later, hours after I visited and promised him I would do everything I could to get him free, the underboss had him killed because he might have talked.”

A nurse stopped by to check on Raptor at this point, as they’d detected a change in the villain’s heartrate. Raptor clenched his jaw and put up with the brief check before continuing, though the nurse hurried out as fast as he could to escape the two angry, armored cyborgs. “Vien never would have done that. He would have been loyal, but they were not loyal to him. I knew where he went, so I snuck in and stole. Soon, I had enough for the first surgery, and I took more from them. I heard about The Claw’s people and met with them. They were intrigued by my story and decided to upgrade me. As a show of loyalty, I helped them take over the heroin ring, and killed the underboss who had Vien murdered. I knew when I started on this path that would not, could not be enough to avenge Vien. Veloci-Raptor will remember my brother if I have to carve his name into its scales until there is no unmarked inch of space left on its hide.”

I nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got a powerful flame burning in you. It would be a shame for it to be extinguished before it could consume Veloci-Raptor.” I don’t have anything against that particular hero, though it’s fun to note how much differently the situation would have been handled by a villain. If I went in, I’d have tried to kill people, not wound and capture. No need to get the cops involved. If Raptor’s brother had survived, he clearly wouldn’t have been at risk of testifying against the underboss, so he wouldn’t have been murdered.

After that little black heart to black heart, I went to check on our prisoner. The strawberry blond damsel we’d brought back had been put into decent enough health by the nanites, which at least confirmed she was human. Confirmation of her species was not shared by the guards, the highest ranking of which stepped over to respectfully warn me she’s a spitter. I patted him on the shoulder and assured him I’d faced spitters, swallowers, and all sorts.

When I stepped up to the cell, I saw her looking like a tired, cornered, angry mess in the corner. She spat at me. The spittle hit the fangy grin of my helmet’s front mask. I calmly wiped it away with one gaunlet. “You know what this means now?” I asked in the language she appeared to speak. We’d recovered the data, as well as most of the bodies, from the camp after I sent a second flight over. Some had been pecked at, and others had been dragged off, but nothing over there bothered with the strange plastic and metal.

She stood up and moved so that she stood with her back to the center of the wall opposite of the cell’s entrance. I gestured to the guards to open the door. They looked at me like I was crazy. I imagine that look sounded somewhat different a minute later when they heard the spanking start. I mean, it was my armor. She wasn’t overpowering it. I grabbed her when she tried to kick me in the balls and bent her over my knee, then pulled down that leather skirt of hers and began popping her on the ass cheeks. “No spitting!” I stopped every few spanks to see if she’d learned her lesson. When she spit, she got hit.

Just perfectly innocent stuff. Nothing raunchy at all. The fact that I pulled her hair in a couple of times in the middle of it is incidental. After a few minutes, I stopped to check on her camel-like behavior. She was crying, but hung her head and didn’t spit. “Good. You are learning. For that, you get a treat.” I reached back into a pouch on the back of my belt and pulled out a cup of delicious chocolate pudding. It took her a moment to learn how to open it up, but then she started tongueing that cup hard.

I just sat there as she ate it, watching her. Now, of course, I’m not one to go around feeling attraction to humans. Disgusting species. Have you ever looked at one for long and realized how weird their noses are? I mean, there’s no visual difference between my own evolutionarily superior species and homo sapiens, but they sometimes hit the uncanny valley when I think about them. In spite of that, my armor just happened to rub me the right way so as to cause a minor blood pressue issue in the groin region.

“I am Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” I told her. Now, I thought I told her next that I would take all of Mu for myself and she should use her time wisely to make her peace with it. She cocked her head, confused by it. To me, this suggested a translation error. “Can you tell me the meaning of what I just said to you? I believe the translator failed.”

“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.”

The additional data helped my personal translator program make up the difference. “Good. Yes, soon I shall take over your land.”

“Do you know who I am? My father would never allow you to take his kingdom!”

I shrugged. “I don’t care what he would allow, I just know what I’m going to go. Are you some sort of princess?”

“I am Elda, daughter of Garth, who is King of the Bronze City and the Bronze Men who are hundred deep and a hundred wide,” she boasted.

I poked at her mouth, but she moved away. “Your people haven’t invented braces, I see. It’s metal you attach to your teeth to force them into a straigher position. Also, a shame about your nose there.”

“I wear my scars proudly,” she said. “I will prove myself the equal of any man.”

“I mean, you didn’t. You got caught, then rescued by that big guy. Was he the man you’re promised to or something?”

“Vercingetorix is a barbarian from the Central Wastes. He is a warrior known far and wide throughout the land. That you do not know of him shows your stupidity and arrogance.” She almost spat the words at me, but left it at words.

At the risk of my penis becoming, perhaps, too erect, I really wanted to cut this meeting short and find the nearest of any of my suitors, or even Silver Shark again. That’s not a knock on her. She rejected me, and I can’t help but feel that the cheating had nothing to do with it, considering all the dicks I sucked in North Korea to get that country straightened out. Perhaps most people wouldn’t consider that to be “straightening” out a bunch of guys, but I stand by my actions.

“Were you expecting his help?” I asked, returning to the interrogation. In my head, I started thinking of stuff to de-mortify lil Gecko. Soccer. Seafood. Rainboots. Wait a second… well, ya learn something new about yourself everyday.

“He’s likely after a reward. My father will certainly have offered a bounty for my safe return before he marries me off to whichever merchant or foreign leader he needs the aid of.” Having grown somewhat comfortable with me around, she went to lay down on the cot fixed against the wall of her bunk. She quickly adjuster herself when her ass reminded her of the spanking.

I nodded. “I hear you. I prefer the idea of marrying for love, for some reason.” Now I cocked my head as an idea occurred to me. “Probably because I’m likely to let my spouse die or kill them myself unless I actually like them for some reason. But enough about me. Your life sounds fascinating. Tell me all about it.”

It might be surmised I was looking to get jiggy with her, which is certainly a biological response I had. After all, it pays to be a good listener around a potential partner, especially if you’re looking to get on their good side. Really, it always pays to be attentive to what people say for things to exploit or use against them, but that also means manipulating them with gifts or even showing you care by remembering basic information about their lives. Especially when that person ran away from home to try and be Xena: Warrior Princess.

She knows customs, legends, and myths. She also knows what this Bronze City and its Bronze Men look like. I’m getting a general hoplite vibe from her descriptions, so I’ll have to be careful not to attack with a million men in wicker-clad power armor. I sat and talked with her. Elda didn’t exactly swoon for me, but she seems to tolerate my presence. I responded by sending over some better pillows and blankets for her. A carrot, though I doubt she’ll let me do anything to her with my stick.

I returned to find Silver Shark pacing in front of the residence. She stomped up to me. “About time!”

I held up my hands, but otherwise headed for the door. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, just that reconaissance flights of Mu show armies gathering and navies being built, including in a big northern city that has a lot of metalworking. That hunky guy you pissed off has been spotted riding a big ass bear and gathering a team. And then there’s what Citra did.”

That caused me to stop. “What did Citra do?” I turned back to Silver Shark.

“What she thinks you wanted,” she said. Silver crossed her arms. “You better not hurt her.”

I facepalmed. “Hurting people is what I’m good at. Why does anyone expect any different? I mean, I hurt you by fucking a single pirate chick, even though I somehow didn’t hurt you when I sucked off half of Pyongyang’s military.”

“What?!” she said. Her mouth opened and closed, quite like a fish actually, before she processed it enough to go on. “You bastard!” She raised a claw, then stopped, then shook her head and walked off. “I need some time before I do something I’ll regret!”

Is it any wonder I decided to build an remote-control duplicate to take my place around hostiles? Especially with how good I am at making people hostile?

Inside, I found rose petals on the floor, with a note in beautiful calligraphy. “Beetrice is trying to win your heart by entertaining your daughter. Follow the roses.”

They led to my bedroom and what appeared to be Venus in those red and gold robes of Citra’s. She spoke in Citra’s voice, using the local language, as well. “Hello, my Emperor.” Well, you could say it wasn’t just the floor where something rose.

I can prepare for war against barbarians any day. Actually, Citra gave me an idea. Well, an idea beyond wheelbarrow position. Like, what if I take one of the robot drones they’re building and coat it with flesh and muscle so it resembles the barbarian, then send it to assassinate the leader of the resistance against me?

The only way this plan gets any better is if I could use time travel for it.

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Gecko Says Mu 4

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“What exactly am I looking at here, besides the obvious?” I asked. VelocityRaptor had streamed a video taken by his helmet camera of what he claimed to be a major discovery. It appeared to be a rocky valley with only a tree. The tree didn’t appear to be in too good of shape, either. Its roots looked like they were maybe arm thickness and spread out along the surface, curling around jagged corners of the rocks it sat on before disappearing down into cracks. It had a thick, pale brown trunk that shot off limbs all along starting a couple feet up and rising up to a mess of branches twenty feet up. No leaves anywhere on the thing or below it.

“As I said, this is a major discovery.” He’s good at repeating things, I’ll give him that. I suppose he should be, considering I’ve already encountered a heroic raptor with superspeed before. That one wore a cape and called itself Veloci-Raptor. I keep meaning to ask if this is just one of those convergent ideas, or if VelocityRaptor’s a villainous cyborg-robot knockoff, like Cyborg Superman, MechaGodzilla, or the bad Bill and Ted robots. The other one might have been more eloquent, though. This guy informed me, “This is the Tree of Wonders.”

“Wow,” I said, “I certainly wonder what’s so important about it.”

He turned his head, taking in the area surrounding the tree. It resembled a crater full of jagged rock. Periodic skeletons and mineral deposits littered the vista. “Once we analyzed the local language, we gained information from our captive. Villages we came across told us much the same. There is a legend about this tree. They say a spirit lives in it that can grant the desires of whoever controls it.”

He walked around the tree, looking at it from all sides. “It doesn’t look impressive to me.” He stepped closer to it. “Are there any tree spirits here?”

He didn’t get an answer, so I spoke up. A magical tree that somehow wasn’t guarded by the most powerful bunch of people in that land. “Fascinating, really. I guess we know where this thing is now. Maybe file that away for exploiting the locals, but let’s keep on the lookout for anything important. Any weird kingdoms of guys with crappy iron weapons, or wizards, or anything?”

“My apologies, my lord. Please give me another chance,” he stammered on.

I rolled my eyes to myself, which caused me to pay attention to my own surroundings again. I’d been building another deathbot in the residence. Something with treads that adjust to the terrain. I didn’t have anything set as far as weapons or a top yet, but I’d come up with something. The previous one had been more of an impulse thing. I bet I can make this one resistant to probing long enough for it to reach Master Academy. I might make more of the other ones, though. Sometimes you have enough enemies around that it doesn’t matter if you drop in a robot that tries to murder anyone.

Not all impulses are bad. Citra passed by and ran her hands through my hair. I caught her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where she cuddled up to me with a smile. “Just be cool, ok?” I requested. She took my hand, but didn’t try anything with me. I returned my attention to VelocityRaptor, who had continued an apology that must have been pre-written. “Are you still talking? I get it, you followed a lead you thought sounded good. A magical tree isn’t really that unusual of an idea nowadays. You didn’t even try and wish for ice cream yet.”

“Ice cream?” he asked.

“Try vanilla, chocolate, whatever you want. Ooh, chocolate ice cream with Nutter Butter pieces is a good one.” I got a confused look from Citra, who’s only hearing one side of all this.

VelocityRaptor’s head tilted to the side. “I would never question your wisdom-”

“Eh, feel free. I welcome feedback, so long as you’re not being a complete asshole. I’ll even tolerate light assholism, depending on the context. I know I’m unimpressed, so now you have an opportunity to show my first impression was wrong. Now stick your hand on that tree and ask for ice cream.”

“Yes, sir.” VelocityRaptor approached, having to pick his way over the roots. He placed a metal claw on the trunk of the tree. “I wish I had chocolate ice cream with pieces of Nutter Butter in it. Agh!” He whipped his head around to see roots grow up over his legs. He clawed at them and chomped up until he was covered in a thick brown substance. “It’s cold!” he yelled. At the same time, things shook on Ricca.

Citra looked around. “Earthquakes?” I squeezed her hand, but she still kept looking around.

“Eat your way free, Raptor!” I egged him on.

“I’m lactose intolerant!”

“We’ll talk about your anti-dairy bigotry another time. For now, get yourself out of there.”

I left him to that and tried calling on the rest of the guys to let them know what happened. I couldn’t raise anyone, so I borrowed a Chinese “television” satellite. The only TV channels that thing carries are whatever Beijing’s intelligence service want to look at. I went ahead and marked down the company that did it as possible non-official cover to be confirmed and sold off later, when the expedition isn’t at risk. The campsite showed the rest of the men sent over were busy getting their asses kicked a mile away from VelocityRaptor. Unfortunately, while China’s ok at forcing kids to dig out computer parts from scrap piles, they aren’t the country that actually makes all this equipment. The thing was limited in how far it could zoom in and identify the assailant.

It annoyed me to not be able to do anything to protect my people, but the Dimension Rangers ship-robot has been spotted approaching from the east, Americas. And, shit, just imagine what they could do with a tree that grants a wish but tries to kill people? They have a few different members to spare.

Finally, VelocityRaptor’s viewpoint cleared up as he pulled himself away from the reaching roots of the tree. They tried to pursue only so far before he shot a gout of flame from his helmet and convinced them to stay back. I spoke up as he took a moment to clear penetrating roots and wet ice cream off. “As tends to be the case, life has served up not just one, but a whole six-pack of douche brew. I need you to get to your camp. It’s under attack.”

“Yes, sir,” He said. He reached down to his waist and and flipped open a part of the exoskeleton. He punched a green button and doubled over with a pained groan. He stood up a couple seconds later, breathing normally, and raced off.

As for me, I sighed and helped Citra off my lap to go get my armor. It was a quicker way for me to travel to the Institute of Science and its Drone Warfare storage. Because I could have tried to put together robots out of prosthetics, but they weren’t ready in time. At least a few of these were good to go. I put out the call to that daredevil military pilot to delivery my menagerie of mechanical menaces.

Ooh, I like that name.

A bit of heavy lifting later and the cavalry was on the way. Tuning back in to VelocityRaptor, he arrived at the camp. The expedition set up in a relatively flat area with short grasses marred only by the occasional boulder. Another of those loincloth-clad barbarians who never heard of a shirt or tunic stood in the middle of a ring of my dead soldiers. He undid the restraints on a strawberry blond woman in leather. So that was the prisoner. Not bad looking, but modern orthodontics would do her good.

Our barbarian friend could use a barber. The male ponytail is so 1990s, and that double-headed battleaxe! Ugh, some people have no taste in weapons. Having done my duty as judge, it was time to be jury and executioner. “Hey, Raptor. I know you’re a little fucked up right now, and not in the fun way that involves a bong made out of a human spleen.” Best to lighten the news with spleen talk. It’s an inherently funny organ, much like the penis when exposed to Alaska or Deep One females.

Anyway, back to Raptor. “I have reinforcements on the way, so try to stay alive long enough to beat the crap out of these guys so bad, they’ll think it was their monthly dysentery session. We’re gonna run the Oregon Trail on them. You got it?”

He didn’t respond. I don’t think Raptor was entirely there anymore. He roared and pounced toward the barbarian. The axe to the face must have hurt, but whatever Raptor injected himself with must have been the good stuff.

He swung his tail around to and drew a line of blood from the barbarian who lodged his axe into a connection between two of the larger pieces of Raptor’s tail. Raptor tossed it off into the distance and managed to slice up the woman’s arm. The barbarian tackled him and threw him to the ground, but doubled over from a tail to the crotch. If the drill hadn’t been damaged from the axe, that could have ended it. He had to resort to lifting up the barbarian, who grabbed onto the appendage and tore it off. The large man hopped onto Raptor’s back and used the portion he tore off to choke Raptor.

Raptor reached up and dug for the barbarian with the suit’s claws. He pulled him over, dropping the man down in front of him. The barbarian gritted teeth so big I could tile a bathroom with them as he caught the blades on the side and pushed them back, overpowering the exoskeleton. “I am going to tear your head off and make you eat it!” They were stalemated until the prisoner ran up and swung the axe into Raptor’s side, knocking him over. The barbarian stood up grabbed it, then raised the weapon high.

Machinegun fire from the helicopter knocked the axe to the sideand ruined the potential strike. One of the drones, a torso on a quad copter, flew out the side door under my direction and fired a laser, trying to hit him. I ended up putting a hole through chest of the woman he’d come there to save instead. When it got too close, he hurled his axe at it. I maneuvered to evade it, but the thing somehow curved in midflight to hit the drone.

Then a tripodal sphere landed, followed by a miniature tank resembling a toy, a torso on four legs, and other prototypes. The barbarian decided it was time to leave while the robotic extensions of myself helped VelocityRaptor into the chopper that lowered itself. They grabbed the axe and the woman’s body while they were at it, too. I felt like pissing off this guy, and then it turned out she wasn’t quite dead yet. An emergency dose of regenerative nanomachines would keep her stabilized.

“I got ya, Raptor. And we’ll be back for the other guys, too.”

I liked the idea of hurting that guy, and not just out of sadism. See, the thought occurs to me that I might need that tree, and he likely knows where to find it. The Dimension Rangers are close, too. I need to evaluate the threat of this island and figure out if they’re going to rally some iron-age army against me, or use a stupid wishing tree to erase me from existence. At least now, the guy only knows about Raptor.

This has also thrown it in my face how much I need to expand my personal reach off the island, and I’m working on that. I’ve got a factory retooling itself to create drones and robots. I myself have taken custody of a large amount of nanites for a special project related to this. Bit by bit, they’re painstakingly assembling a replica of my armor, but with an android drone inside.

I know, it’s not everyday the supervillain dictator of his own country builds a mechanical duplicate of himself in his signature armor to send out after his enemies. Something like this needs a special name. It’s just hard to find something that conveys the correct sense of doom my enemies need to feel. So, instead, I settled on calling it a Dudebot. The name’s subject to change next time my sex does.

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Gecko Says Mu 3

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The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.

The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”

She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.

Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.

I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”

I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.

Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.

They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.

Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.

Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.

Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.

Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.

Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?

Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…

Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.

With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.

It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”

I shook my head. “This is a robot.”

“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.

I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”

“I don’t think I get it,” she said.

“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”

“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”

“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.

“Is she pretty?” She asked.

I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”

“Ok!”

We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.

So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”

“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”

“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”

“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”

“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”

I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”

“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”

“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”

“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.

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